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Chicago Teacher Strike Kicks Students to the Curb

Brian Koenig | Oct 15, 2012, 6 a.m.

On Sept. 10, thousands of Chicago public-school teachers went on strike, leaving some 350,000 students without schooling and forcing parents to decide whether to stay home from work, fork out the extra money for childcare, or leave their children at home to fend for themselves.

Some of the 20,000 teachers who hit the streets last month had the audacity to say their actions were, yes that’s right, for the children. However, the futility of trying to decipher this rationalization is quite apparent.

The strike commenced after a heated debate over a renewed contract left union leaders and school district officials in gridlock. On Sept. 18, after more than a week of contentious debate, union delegates relented and voted to suspend the strike—after receiving a number of concessions, including one that eliminated teacher evaluations.

While the more obvious casualty of the strike was the large number of children having temporarily forfeited their education, Chicago parents were faced with a dilemma. Patricia Rodriguez, one parent in the nation’s third-largest school district, had to take her two children to work at a nearby laundromat.

Jasmine Rodriguez, a third-grader at Edwards Elementary, and her big sister Yaritza, who is 13 and in the seventh grade, are among the nearly 180,000 Hispanics attending Chicago public schools, accounting for 43 percent of the city’s entire student population. Many of these families—27 percent, according to the latest census report—residing in one mostly Hispanic neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest side, live in poverty and had to decide whether a parent could afford to stay home from work to watch their children, or pay the money for alternative childcare.

Rodriguez had acknowledged that she was thankful for her ability to take her children to work, but indicated that the greed of the Chicago union was imposing a grave financial burden on thousands of families living below the poverty line.

“I’m lucky that I can take them to work with me because they can sit in the chairs, but I know that families had to leave kids home alone today or stay home and miss work to be with them and that’s not fair,” Ms. Rodriguez said at the time. “The teachers want more and more money and while they fight for that, it’s us, the parents, that are spending money today that we don’t have either. It’s not a big thing today but what about tomorrow and next week if they don’t go back?”

While health benefits and new performance-based standards were surely a factor in igniting the strike, teachers’ pay was, naturally, another gripe from the union.

But despite already earning an average salary of about $75,000, teachers were not satisfied with a 16-percent increase—an offer made early in the contract talks—over the next four years, which school officials had proposed as part of the original contract deal. And while a 16-percent increase on salaries averaging $75,000 (before benefits) was not sufficient for the union, the average family in Chicago earns only $47,000 a year.

So, in effect, nearly doubling the average pay of non-teacher Chicagoans was not enough. And, consequently, due to the union’s insatiable greed, Chicago children—including those among the poorest in the country—were left without schooling for more than a week.

Brian Koenig is a blogger and columnist, writing about political issues and other current events. Visit his blog at www.brianekoenig.com. Send comments to brianekoe@gmail.com.

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